Black Thumb

Bishop Greer (LOC)

Is this picture spot on or what?

Remember all that stuff I said about Ash Wednesday?

Well, it’s still true.  But this year, what meant more to me than the ash on my forehead was the ash on my thumb.

I stood behind the altar rail as each and every person in the pews came up to receive the ashes.  I dipped my thumb into the bowl of ashes over and over, carefully making a cross on each forehead and saying the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I did this for old people, young people, and in-between people.  Some of them knelt, some of them stood, some of them bent over so that I could reach their foreheads more easily.  (Pro Tip: I am not the tallest pastor the world has ever seen.)  Some of them were somber, some of them said “thank you”, some of them smiled when the dry ash bounced down their faces.  The littlest ones grinned at me like I was giving them a present.

After the imposition of ashes and the prayers of the people, I did my best to clean off my thumb.  I scrubbed and scrubbed with the baby wipes I had stashed in my pew, and while my thumb was clean enough for me to touch the communion cloths, it was still black with ash.

And I thought, Holy Buckets.  With great power comes great responsibility.

Okay, I didn’t think that, exactly.  (Pro Tip: I am not Spiderman.)  But looking at my black thumb, I was overwhelmed with the trust and responsibility I’ve been given.  To name sin and brokenness, and to speak God’s forgiveness.  To preach the law and the gospel.  To trace mortality on foreheads in the shape that means new life.

I also thought of this hymn, which we would be singing in church today if we had the “new” ELCA hymnal:

I’m going on a journey, and I’m starting today.

My head is wet, and I’m on my way.

Christ’s mark is on me; it’s on you, too;

it says he loves me, and he loves you, too!

Here’s the best youtube video of it that I could find.  It’s a Lutheran children’s choir, accompanied by piano and saxophone, and I sort of love it.

God bless you on your Lenten / baptismal / getting through  life journey, today and every day.

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10 Comments

Filed under Ministry Matters

10 responses to “Black Thumb

  1. Also my favorite song. We used it for our theme song last Lent. This post, Maggie, says everything I felt on Wednesday with much more eloquence than I could manage. Thank you. Thank you.

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    • Well, thank you! Our theme song (replacing the hymn of praise) this year is “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”. I like that one, too, and I’m sure my people will prefer it to the Great Litany, which we used regularly the last two years.

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  2. Thanks, Maggie. Great insights, as usual. I attended a service this year where the worshippers imposed ashed on themselves, looking into a mirror as they traced the cross and said the words. I was moved by the experience (although I know some didn’t like it!). It is a profound action either way.

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    • Thank you, Amy! That is an interesting way to do ashes–I agree, a profound action either way. This year I ended up ashing myself; the past two years I’ve had the first person in line do it for me. I liked that way better and will probably return to it next year (or maybe find a midday service somewhere), but it was still meaningful to put them on myself.

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  3. I love your writings and your thoughts about being a pastor. Your voice turns wistful when you discuss larger ideas that come out of everyday spirituality, and I adore every bit of it. Thank you for writing this, and thank you for sharing so much of this central part of your life.

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  4. Susan Latzke

    As a member of the churches where Maggie recieved her now notorious black thumb I can say we are Blessed to have her as our Preacher ,Teacher and Friend . Maggie not only speaks the word , she lives it and her actions tell it. Last year Maggie not only blessed us with the ash cross but she produced it. She took the palm leaves from the former year and burned them down to make the ash a story only she can tell . I hope everyone reading her Blog will get to meet her someday . She is Amazing .

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    • Susan, you are pretty amazing, too! For one thing, you helped me move last summer. People, this included packing up pretty much my whole kitchen. It was no small job, and Susan did it graciously. Thank you for saying such nice things about me, Susan! It means a lot to me.

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